Bill Lee

Permitless carry: How they voted

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House voted 64-29 to pass a bill eliminating training and background check requirements in order to carry a loaded handgun in public. The Senate previously approved its version on a 23-9 vote. The bill now heads for Gov. Bill Lee’s signature.

The measure is opposed by law enforcement groups, though sponsors noted they had heard from several officers and sheriff’s deputies that they supported the measure.

The House bill gained the support of 63 Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston. Twenty-four Democrats voted against the measure, plus five Republicans voted against the bill: John Gillespie of Memphis, Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, Eddie Mannis of Knoxville, Mark White of Memphis, and Sam Whitson of Franklin. Five other GOP members were absent or abstained.

In the Senate, all six Democrats plus three Republicans voted against the bill: Sens. Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Brian Kelsey of Memphis, and Becky Massey of Knoxville.

(See the House rollcall after the jump.)

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Lee (quietly) gets COVID-19 vaccine

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend. But he didn’t let on about getting the Pfizer shot until pressed by Tennessean reporter Natalie Allison following an event at the state Capitol on Monday.

Unlike when the governor received a flu shot last fall, Lee did not publicize getting his first of two Pfizer vaccines at the Williamson County Agricultural Center on Saturday.

“We believe that it’s important that Tennesseans get a vaccine if they feel so inclined, but we’re encouraging them to do so because that’s how we’ll get most quickly to herd immunity,” the governor said.

Lee revives $250M mental health trust fund proposal for K-12 students

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is reviving a proposal to create $250 million trust fund to tackle mental health issues for K-12 students. Lee made a similar proposal last year, but it was abandoned amid uncertainty about the state’s budget picture amid the pandemic.

Here is the full release from the Lee adminstration:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee re-introduced the Mental Health Trust Fund in a renewed proposal to assist K-12 families who are facing significant mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19. This proposal allocates $250 million in available funds to create strong mental health services for school-aged students through a systemwide, evidence-based approach.

“The mental health of all Tennessee students is essential to their safety, education and success beyond the classroom,” said Gov. Lee. “While my administration proposed these critical mental health supports last year, we now have the available funding and a greater need than ever before to ensure our students have access to mental health resources. I thank the members of the General Assembly for their partnership in this important effort.”

“We know the earlier we can intervene, the better outcomes are for children and families,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW. “The services that will be funded by this investment will allow us to increase the services available from community mental health providers and schools, preventing children from entering mental health crisis situations and ending up in an emergency room.”

Services supported by the Mental Health Trust Fund would include: 

– Direct clinical services in schools

– Mental health awareness and promotion

– Suicide prevention and postvention strategies

– Trauma-informed programs and practices

– Violence and bullying prevention

– Project Basic, which includes mental health supports

There is a significant need for strong K-12 mental health supports:

– Nationally, one in five children has a mental health diagnosis in any given year

– Over 60% of children who receive mental health services do so through their school

– Youth mental health has worsened in the last decade: From 2014 to 2019, the prevalence of Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in Tennessee youth ages 12-17 increased from 9.1%

– The approximate prevalence of any mental illness in the past year among Tennessee youth is about 300,000

– In January 2021, Tennessee ranked 28th in overall mental health and 34th overall in youth mental health 

– School closures during COVID-19 limited students’ access to mental health services and caused a pause in critical mental health reporting

The Lee administration has taken strong action to address mental health:

– Behavioral Health Safety Net for Children: Essential mental health supports for uninsured children age 3-17 beginning September 2020

School Based Behavioral Health Liaison (SBBHL) Expansion:Expanded proven program to all 95 counties

TN Suicide Prevention Network: Expanded regional directors to increase coverage and boosted training in suicide prevention

– Youth and Young adult Mental Health Awareness and Promotion:Funding granted to three separate programs that reached more than 11,000 individuals

Lee’s appointments to wildlife board questioned

Bill Lee speaks at a unity press conference in Nashville on Aug. 4, 2018 after winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s nominations of his former campaign manager and a businessman who was once cited for a hunting violation to the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission are raising questions in the General Assembly, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Lee wants to appoint Chris Devaney, a former state GOP chairman who ran his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, and Stan Butt, the husband of former state Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia), to the wildlife panel.

Devaney, a Texas native, obtained his first Tennessee hunting and fishing permit in 2017. Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), a major player in the legislature’s sportsmen’s caucus, expressed some unease about the Devaney nomination.

“I live in Southeast Tennessee, and the last two commissioners we’ve had from our area, David Watson and Tony Sanders, are huge outdoorsmen, people that I’ve seen outdoors, people that I’ve seen on social media who go hunting and fishing and participate in outdoor activities,” Bell told the Times Free Press. “It is somewhat concerning to me that we now have a person who’s been appointed to be on the commission whom I’ve never seen at an event.”

Bell hastened to add he considers Devaney a friend that he “may make a fantastic commissioner.” Fellow Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga said he was a “little disappointed that [Devaney] would even let himself be considered for this.”

“His expertise is in a lot of other areas besides hunting and fishing and wildlife,” Gardenhire told the paper.

Devaney said he’s a lifelong hunter and the grandson of late George Wells, a Texas apparel manufacturer who helped pioneer camouflage hunting clothing. He showed the paper a copy of a Texas-issued hunter education certificate earned in the eighth grade, along with a current Texas hunting license and one issued in 2014 in Alabama.

Butt and his three adult sons were cited by wildlife officers in 2008 for hunting during bow season “while in possession [of] a firearm or accompanied by person in violation of a firearm.” He later paid a $50 civil fine and $195 in court costs.

Butt, who was also an active Lee supporter during the 2018 campaign, chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

“We weren’t hunting with a bow,” Butt said in an interview. “We were hunting on a 5,000-acre lease. And in our ignorance we were hunting hogs on this lease, hogs were legal at the time. We didn’t know that bow season [for deer] had opened that weekend. And we weren’t hunting deer, we were hunting hogs.”

Butt called the incided “unfortunate” and “one of them things, that’s what I told them, I said, ‘Hey, I can certainly understand how people get caught in those situations because I’ve been there.'”

Bell said Butt “has a good resume as being an outdoorsman and somebody who’s participated. Somebody who’s had, as I understand, one wildlife infraction in his background. But again, that’s the governor’s choice.”

Bell said if Lee wants to shake up the commission, Butt could be a good choice because “I know he can be a little aggressive, and again I was on the same side as him on a couple of issues. But he can be a little aggressive, which that may be the governor’s intention. If it is, I understand.”

Health commissioner warns of possible COVID-19 surge

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey is warning of the next potential spike in COVID-19 infections despite the downward trends of the last quarter.

The Nashville Post reports the state’s infection rate dropped 85% between January and the middle of this month, but that 8,500 new cases were reported over the last week, with the active case count jumping by 1,000 people. Hospitalization rates are also creeping up.

“I’m fairly certain it’s going to get worse. What I don’t know is how high the next surge might be,” Piercey told lawmakers. “We are already starting to see — we saw a plateau for three to six weeks — now we are starting to see it tick back up ever so slightly. What I don’t know is whether that will be a blip or if that will be a pretty substantive surge.”

Piercey said the statistics underscore the need to convince more Tennesseans to get vaccinated. Gov. Bill Lee has announced the state will drop all restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines by early April, meaning innoculations will be available to anyone who wants one.

“Some of the vaccine hesitancy we have encountered was expected. We anticipated some of it, but there has been, to be honest, some vaccine hesitancy that we did not anticipate, and we can’t readily identify reasons for that,” she said. “That’s why the market research piece is so important, in all 95 counties, particularly among rural conservative and rural white men, why they are hesitant and how to address it properly.”

Bill to ban lawmakers from selling services to the state wouldn’t extend to executive branch

A Lee Company truck is parked outside the fire-damaged John Sevier State Office Building on Nov. 24, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Current law makes it illegal for public officials to enter into sales or purchase contracts with the state. A bill moving in the House would also make it a crime for lawmakers to secure service contracts with the state, with the main aim being to curb the practice of members’ political consulting firms getting paid with taxpayer funds to design and send constituent correspondence on behalf of their colleagues.

The bill sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) initially would have applied to any government official, but as amended it is limited to “any member of the General Assembly.”

When Bill Lee was running for governor, he appeared to have been caught off guard by questions about what would happened to government contracts held by his family plumbing and air conditioning company if he were elected governor.

“I would guess we would be required to do that. I haven’t actually looked into that. I basically went into this thing and said, am I willing to give up state contracts to do this, yes,” Lee said in 2017. “Will we be required to? I don’t know. If we aren’t required to, I won’t.”

Lee later clarified his position and announced he would cancel all contracts if he was elected. Lee Co. trucks have sporadically been spotted around the Capitol complex since the governor took office, but officials say the company has no active contracts.

Jacobs formally announces bid for another term as Knox County mayor

Gov. Bill Lee, right, and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs meet at the state Capitol in Nashville on Feb. 4, 2019. (Photo: Gov. Bill Lee’s office)

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs has formally announced his bid for a second term as mayor of Knox County. While widely expected, the decision means the professional wrestler won’t be running for governor in 2022.

“Four years ago, I pledged to stay true to my conservative values as Mayor,” Jacobs said in a statement. “Nobody could have envisioned a pandemic and the economic shutdown that followed, but I’m proud Knox County has been able to weather the storm without a tax increase.”

The Republican primary in the mayor’s race is scheduled for May 3, 2022. Jacobs, who wrestles as the WWE villain Kane, won the 2018 nomination by 23 votes over Brad Anders.

Here’s the full release from the Jacobs campaign:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs will file the necessary paperwork to officially claim his spot in the 2022 mayoral race seeking re-election for the county executive seat he has held since September 2018. Alexander Waters will serve as Campaign Treasurer with Jake Ogle assisting.

As Mayor, Jacobs has demonstrated strong, conservative leadership and focused on telling the rest of the world what Knox County citizens already know: Knox County is the best place to live, work, and raise a family. He has committed to creating opportunities for everyone to thrive in an engaged and vibrant community by prioritizing jobs, education and recreation.

Jacobs promises to fervently continue this work in the second term.

Of the candidacy, Jacobs said, “Four years ago, I pledged to stay true to my conservative values as Mayor. Nobody could have envisioned a pandemic and the economic shutdown that followed, but I’m proud Knox County has been able to weather the storm without a tax increase. By tightening our belt and making smart cuts, we balanced our budget while continuing to make forward-thinking investments in our community. If reelected, the public can expect four more years of leadership with conservative values top of mind.”

Prior to his election, Jacobs owned Jacob Insurance Associates and spent more than 20 years as a professional wrestler, most notably as WWE Superstar and three-time world champion Kane.

Jacobs and his wife of more than 25 years, Crystal, have lived in East Tennessee with their two daughters Arista and Devan who both work in the healthcare field, since 1995.

Of their move to Knox County in 2013, Jacobs said, “I was fortunate to travel the world in my previous job, but I visited this area, fell in love with it and never left. I’m honored to serve such an incredible community.”

For more information or to support the Glenn Jacobs for Mayor reelection campaign, visit JacobsForMayor.com.

The Republican primary is set to take place on May 3, 2022, with the General Election following on August 4, 2022. Anyone wishing to vote in the primary must be registered to vote by April 4, 2022. Voter registration information can be found here.


Lee administration giving conservative activists jump on public releases

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters outside the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Want to know what Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is up to before the general public? Find a way to get on the mailing list of the Republican’s external affairs director. That’s not to be confused with the governor’s communications office, which handles traditional media releases and the likes.

Lee’s External Affairs Director Joseph Williams last week emailed activists to inform them about “a key conservative priority” by the governor to ban China-backed Confucius Institutes at public universities and require transparency for other foreign gifts and investments. The correspondence included a copy of a press release that would be sent out the public and media two hours later.

Here’s the email:

From: Joseph Williams
Subject: Governor Lee’s Transparency In Foreign Investment Act
Date: March 16, 2021 at 12:08:45 PM CDT

Friends,
The Governor wanted y’all to get news on this before we issue a press release. This continues to be a key conservative priority moving forward.
Let me know if you have any follow-up questions. Best,
Joseph  

Joseph Williams| Director of External Affairs

One recipient was thrilled to hear it, encouraging like-minded folks to send Williams an “attaboy for a job well done,” especially given past policy differences with Lee over COVID-19 mitigation, the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Capitol, and Black Lives Matter protests in Nashville.

Lee appears to be have ramped up his partisan rhetoric in advance of next year’s re-election campaign, but his use of government resources to reach out to potential voters is raising eyebrows among political observers.

Freshman Republican bucks leadership on permitless carry

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. John Gillespie, a freshman Republican from Memphis, speaking out against a bill to eliminate background check and training requirements in order to carry handguns in public.

“Law enforcement opposes this bill, and I take their recommendation seriously,” Gillespie said in a release.

The bill passed the Senate on a 23-9 vote last week (opponents included three Republicans: Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Brian Kelsey of Memphis, and Becky Massey of Knoxville). The House version is up for a Finance Committee vote on Tuesday.

The measure was introduced on behalf of Gov. Bill Lee and has wide support among Republicans in both chambers. But for some gun rights groups, the bill doesn’t go far enough. The National Association for Gun Rights has publicized the phone numbers of Senate Speaker Randy
McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Senate Judiciary Chair Mike Bell (R-Riceville) for opposing efforts to allow people with recent drunken driving or stalking convictions to be covered by the bill.

The state issued 145,237 handgun carry permits last year, but 3,639 applications were rejected and 2,065 were suspended or revoked.

Here’s the release from Gillespie:

State Representative John Gillespie today voiced his opposition to a gun bill regarding what is commonly referred to as “open constitutional carry”. The proposed legislation would allow any Tennessean to carry a handgun openly or concealed without a permit and without any training in firearms use.

“I am a strong supporter of our Second Amendment right to possess firearms, but I reservations about this proposed law,” Gillespie stated. “I’ve spoken with numerous constituents and law enforcement professionals about this bill and have decided to vote ‘no’ for two reasons. First, law enforcement opposes this bill, and I take their recommendation seriously. Second, there is no training component to the
legislation. I support Tennessee’s concealed carry law because it requires a course in basic handgun safety. This legislation does not require training, although the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association has offered to provide the training at no charge,” remarked Gillespie.

A graduate of High Point University, Gillespie is a native Memphian. He supports the mission of a local senior living facility by serving as Grant Coordinator. Gillespie began his career in banking and finance starting as a customer service representative at a local bank before working his way up to the mortgage division at another Memphis financial institution. He is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Representative Gillespie was elected to the District 97 seat in the House of Representatives in November. The district includes parts of Bartlett, Cordova, and East Memphis. More information about Gillespie may be found by visiting VoteJohnGillespie.com.

GOP lawmaker levels impeachment threat over bust removal

Gov.-elect Bill Lee speaks to a Chamber of Commerce event in Memphis on Dec. 6, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

While many members of the General Assembly are privately breathing a sigh of relief about the defeat of a resolution to throw out a judge over an absentee balloting ruling last summer, they are now being faced with another threatened ouster, this time of Republican Gov. Bill Lee if he were to violate a proposed new ban on moving busts from the second floor of the state Capitol.

Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) have introduced legislation to reconstitute the Tennessee Historical Commission to give the General Assembly control over eight of its 12 members. The panel, which last week OK’d moving the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust to the State Museum, is currently appointed by the governor.

Ragan has also had an amendment drafted declaring:

Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the statues currently on the second floor of the state capitol must never be altered, removed, concealed, or obscured in any fashion without approval in accordance with this section and must be preserved and protected for all time as a tribute to the bravery and heroism of the citizens of this state who suffered and died in their cause.

If an elected official were to go ahead and do it anyway, “the violation is an impeachable offense and grounds for ouster,” according to the amendment. Public officials would also be personally liable for damages, penalties, and fines.

Ragan was scheduled to present his bill the same day the Historical Commission voted for move the Forrest bust, but he took the measure off notice (which used to mean it was dead, but now indicates it could come back at any time). Hensley is scheduled to present the upper chamber’s version on Wednesday.

The Ragan amendment also includes a provision to add protections for monuments located on private land. If approved, it would likely apply to the garish Forrest statue alongside I-65 in Nashville that its late owner left to either the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Battle of Nashville Trust. The latter has said it would remove the statue.

It is unlawful for a person, firm, corporation, or other entity acting without authority to multimate, deface, defile, abuse contemptuously, relocate, remove, or obscure a privately owned monument, plaque, marker or memorial that is dedicated is dedicated to, honors, or recounts the military service of any past or present military personnel of this state , the United States of America or the several states thereof, or the Confederate States of America or the several states thereof.